Twins halt O's, McDonald, 4-1

May 14, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- For five innings of one-hit ball last night, Orioles co-ace Ben McDonald appeared on course to become the major leagues' first eight-game winner.

Then came the sixth and seventh, when Minnesota Twins perennial All-Star Kirby Puckett stole the game with his bat and his glove and was helped out by clutch relief pitching.

Winning a power-on-power matchup pitting two of the American League's best, Puckett homered off McDonald with one on in the sixth and made a leaping catch at the fence in the seventh to lead the Twins past the Orioles, 4-1, in the opener of a three-game series at the Metrodome.

McDonald (7-1, 3.34), who was trying to become the first pitcher since Dave Stewart in 1988 to earn eight wins eight starts into a season, didn't make it out of the seventh inning for the second consecutive start.

McDonald was pulled after Chuck Knoblauch's two-out single to right drove home the Twins' second run of the inning and gave them a 4-1 lead in a game the Orioles led 1-0 after five innings.

"If we scored our normal 7 1/2 runs for him, he would have won again," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said of McDonald, who was supported by an average of 7.6 runs in his first seven starts.

Instead, the Orioles went 1-for-8 with men in scoring position and slipped into third place in the tightly contested American League East, baseball's best division.

Twins right-hander Pat Mahomes (3-1), who left with runners on the corners and nobody out in the eighth, earned the win after limiting the Orioles to five hits.

Twins manager Tom Kelly went to his bullpen with left-right-left cadence to preserve Mahomes' win. Three relievers struck out a batter each in order to get Mahomes out of the eighth-inning jam.

Kelly called upon left-hander Mark Guthrie to face Brady Anderson, who struck out on four pitches, the last a breaking ball away. Right-hander Mike Trombley threw four pitches to Mike Devereaux and struck him out on a breaking ball away.

Left-hander Larry Casian came on to face Rafael Palmeiro, who struck out on five pitches, then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his first save. Again, the strikeout pitch was a breaking ball away. The only difference this time was Palmeiro didn't swing at it. Home plate umpire Durwood Merrill called him out on a pitch that appeared to be outside the zone.

But Merrill wasn't responsible for giving McDonald his first loss and ending the Orioles' four-game winning streak. Puckett was.

Puckett, who ranks among American League leaders with 37 RBIs, a .329 batting average and seven outfield assists, showed why he remains one of baseball's most respected players.

First Puckett stung the Orioles with his bat, then with his glove.

He broke up McDonald's shutout bid and brought the Twins from behind with a two-run home run with two outs in the sixth inning. Puckett ripped McDonald's 3-1 slider over the center-field fence to give the Twins a 2-1 lead.

Puckett was upset that McDonald's 3-0 slider was called a strike. McDonald later wished it were called a ball.

"I tried to pitch him carefully," McDonald said. "I wouldn't have minded walking him there. I was trying to catch the outside corner with a slider and got it out over the middle of the plate. It was just a matter of

not getting the pitch where I wanted. He's good at hitting crippled pitches. My 3-0 slider was right on the black and I tried to go to the same place with the next one.

"The thought process was there. I knew what I wanted to do. I just didn't do it. You aren't always going to be able to execute it, but when you know what you want to do, half the battle's won."

Puckett brought a .200 career average against McDonald into the at-bat and took a healthy respect for the hard-throwing right-hander out of it.

"Ben's nasty," Puckett said. "He's always been nasty. He has a 90-something mph fastball, a big curveball he throws for strikes, a changeup, a forkball and a slider. If he settles in against you, you're in for a tough night."

With one out in the sixth, Knoblauch hit a ground-rule double that bounced off the turf and over the center-field fence. As Alex Cole looked at strike three, Knoblauch slid into third with a stolen base. McDonald fell behind Puckett, whose fifth home run was estimated at 419 feet.

In the top of the seventh, Hoiles hit what looked to be sure extra bases -- a home run, or a double off the baggie wall -- to right-center off Mahomes. Puckett, playing right, and center fielder Cole raced to the warning track and Puckett made a leaping catch.

McDonald and Mahomes matched zeros for three innings until Palmeiro -- who else? -- got the Orioles going in the fourth.

Palmeiro, who ranks among the top 10 in the American League in hitting, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBI and extra base hits, singled with one out to extend his hitting streak to 16 games. Mahomes then walked Harold Baines, bringing to the plate Cal Ripken, who drove a single to center for his 24th RBI.

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: The Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 8:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Sid Fernandez (2-0, 1.95) vs. Twins' Scott Erickson (3-4, 5.44)

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